First Tee Nerves

Say goodbye to nerves and hello to confidence on the first tee

Here’s a tip that’s tangible that will improve your scores over time.

The area where almost all golfers struggle the most on any round, is on the first tee – and this is where nerves tend to be at their greatest. When driving to the course, many golfers find themselves visualizing the first tee and make it into this huge thing in their minds. This is not just because it’s the start of the round but it’s also because there may be other people watching, not just those we are playing with. And it’s also because many golfers feel that the first tee shot sets the tone for their round.

So let’s work out how to deal with these nerves, which definitely don’t help with your game.

The first hole does not make or break a great round

A look at the PGA Tour statistics shows that neither the first drive nor the first hole has any correlation with the quality of any given round of golf for the pros – and the same applies for amateurs. In fact, many great rounds in the low 60s have started with a bogey. So before your next round you’re NOT going to assume that your first hole sets the tone for the rest of your round, because it doesn’t! Just as flipping a coin and getting “heads” has no impact on a second coin toss at all. None of this is pre-determined.

Replace first tee nerves with excitement

So how are you going to get round past first tee nerves? Recent research shows that the single best way to deal with a fear of public speaking is to get excited and to focus on the emotion of excitement. And the fear in public speaking is the same fear we experience on the first tee. It’s the fear of being watched and judged, by many people, and feeling that we need to perform in front of all these people. So today you’re going to work on feeling excited about the first tee. The outcome of your shot does not matter. What matters is that going on to that first tee you’re excited to hit your first shot and you’re excited to play the first hole. Your pre-shot routine will also help keeping you focused on your process and not the outcome of each shot.

How to always make a par on the first

Another great attitude to have on the first tee is to accept that the first hole of a round is often more psychologically challenging than any other hole. This is the reality and let’s not deny it. One way to ensure that you play in a relaxed manner on the first hole and you don’t let any bad score on this first hole create any negative emotions which linger, is to give yourself an imaginary par for the first hole!

My handicap is scratch, and I give myself an imaginary par of a double bogey for the first hole. This has many benefits. It means that if I hit a bad drive into some trouble, I don’t completely ruin the hole by trying the miracle shot which will still allow me to get my par – which could also result in a quadruple bogey. Because my mental “par” is a double bogey, I accept the penalty, I hit it back out into the fairway and play for a bogey, and ensure that my round is not derailed. And even if I score a double bogey on that hole, this is my psychological par and I don’t allow this outcome to generate any negative lingering thoughts. This approach massively reduces the internal pressure I used to put on myself. Since I’ve adopted this approach my performance on the first hole has improved greatly. I used to be extremely nervous, but now all first holes feel easy to me because I’ve burned so strongly into my mind the idea that a double bogey is an acceptable score and anything less than a double bogey is a huge win for me.

So work out what your own acceptable score on the first hole is, and treat that as your par. This will always ensure that you never make one error such as a bad tee shot or a bad second shot and descend into a series of failed recoveries which end up in a huge score and actually does negatively affect your game all round. One guy I play with regularly does this for the first two holes and it always ensures that he can get through what is the most difficult part of the round for most golfers – and still stay relaxed and still stay positive.

So as you drive to your round, or think about your round today, do two things. First, pick a personal par for the first hole, or even the first two holes, that is 2 shots higher than your handicap would indicate. And equally importantly, start to get excited about the first tee. It’s the beginning of a great day, a day you get to play golf!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this concept!

Get your FREE Mental Game Scorecard

David MacKenzie

is a mental golf coach and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind, a teaching program designed to help golfers condition their minds to overcome fear and play with confidence.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. blank

    Ok, I’ll give its a fair trial.
    My personal problem is somewhat d ifferent: à great first hole drive is followed by botched shorts resulting from1 the fear or not being able to follow through with it.
    A bit like the author or a brillant first novel is paralysed by the fear of not having in himself the capacity to come up with à second one just as good.
    Any suggestion?
    Hope to read you soon.
    Keep well.
    Michel Wandel, Brussels, Belgium.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *